“You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” – Shyamala Gopalan Harris, mother of Kamala Harris
The woman you see here may become the first female President of the United States. Often touted as the “Female Barack Obama,” this San Francisco District Attorney running to be the next Attorney General of California is has taken a hard look at crime and has already accomplished many “firsts.”
Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California in 1964 to a Jamaican father, Stanford University economics professor Donald Harris, and an India mother, breast cancer specialist Dr. Shyamala Gopalan. Her parents were graduate students active in the civil rights movement when Kamala was very young and got Kamala involved very early. Her mother described how she would take Kamala to civil rights marches in her stroller, “When we chanted ‘What do we want?’ she would say ‘Fweedom!'” Two years after Kamala was born her mother gave birth to a second daughter, Maya. Donald and Shyamala separated when Kamala was five years old.
The values Kamala’s parents instilled undoubtedly influenced her and her sister in numerous ways. Kamala attended Howard University where during many weekends, she would protest against apartheid. While at Howard she also pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. After graduating from Howard, she went straight to Law School, obtaining a Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Her sister, Maya, also practiced law and is currently the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. Though their parents were not directly involved in law or politics, it was “in their blood,” as her grandfather was a joint secretary in the Indian government.
After graduating law school, Kamala took a position with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, starting her long career in prosecution. Throughout her career she has prosecuted cases for heinous crimes such as childhood sexual assault, burglary, and murder. In 1998 she became the managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, then became the head of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Division on Families and Children. In 2003 she ran for and won the San Francisco District Attorney election. This position made Kamala the first female, African American and Asian American District Attorney in California’s history.
As DA, Kamala has fought tough challenges, focusing on violent crimes and gun violence using innovative tactics and programs, some of which have been replicated in other states. In her five years in office, there has been a 50 percent increase in serious and violent offenders sent to prison, and the felony conviction rate is at its highest in 15 years. Despite these results, there have been many critics who have called her “soft on crime.” Her new book, Smart on Crime seems to be a “smart” response to those naysayers.
Kamala’s deep experience, long list of awards, strong accomplishments and commitment to public service all make her well positioned to continue to ascend up the political ranks. Though this may be the first time you have heard of her, it certainly won’t be the last.